Charter Oath

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The Charter Oath (五箇条の御誓文 Gokajō no Goseimon?, more literally, the Oath in Five Articles) was promulgated at the enthronement of Emperor Meiji of Japan on 7 April 1868.[1] The Oath outlined the main aims and the course of action to be followed during Emperor Meiji's reign, setting the legal stage for Japan's modernization. It remained influential, if less for governing than inspiring, throughout the Meiji era and into the twentieth century, and can be considered the first constitution of modern Japan.[2]

Contents

Text

As the name implies, the text of the Oath consists of five clauses:

By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.

Origin and subsequent influence

The first draft of the Oath was written by junior councilor Yuri Kimimasa in January 1868, containing progressive language that spoke to the frustrations that the radical but modestly born Meiji leaders had experienced in "service to hereditary incompetents."[4] Yuri's language was moderated by his colleague Fukuoka Takachika in February to be "less alarming," and Kido Takayoshi prepared the final form of the Oath, employing "language broad enough to embrace both readings."[4] The Oath was read aloud by Sanjo Sanetomi in the main ceremonial hall of the Kyoto Imperial Palace in the presence of the Emperor and more than 400 officials. After the reading, the nobles and daimyo present signed their names to a document praising the Oath, and swearing to do their utmost to uphold and implement it. Those not able to attend the formal reading afterwards visited the palace to sign their names, bringing the total number of signatures to 767. [5]

The purpose of the oath was both to issue a statement of policy to be followed by the post-Tokugawa shogunate government in the Meiji period, and to offer hope of inclusion in the next regime to pro-Tokugawa domains. This second motivation was especially important in the early stages of the Restoration as a means to keep domains from joining the Tokugawa remnant in the Boshin War. Later, military victory "made it safe to begin to push court nobles and daimyo figureheads out of the way."[6]

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